Sofa, so good: Bassett comes to town

You might want to read this news sitting down: A new competitor is entering the battle for local sofa supremacy.

Come spring, a company named Bassett will hound customers on Route 29 North in the space recently occupied by Eways Carpet One and a Ron Martin Appliance showroom.

Can Charlottesville play gracious host to another furniture store?

Bassett owner Lenora Kirkley says she thinks the local market is ripe for the new biz, Bassett Furniture Direct.

"It's good quality custom furniture at a fantastic price," says Kirkley, who, with husband Cort, already owns two Bassett stores in Richmond. The couple bought those stores two years ago from Bassett Furniture Industries Inc., a publicly traded company founded 98 years ago and still based in Bassett, Virginia.

Kirkley says that after the purchase, she and Cort remodeled the Richmond stores and "repositioned the brand." Now, she says, they're bringing that experience to Charlottesville.

Among Bassett perks: free in-home consultations, a wide range of furniture styles from "country to classic to casual," and 1,000 fabric choices. In addition, says Kirkley, custom-ordered furniture arrives within four to six weeks, thanks to the in-state manufacturing.

Though Kirkley says the new Bassett store won't open until sometime in early spring, other local furniture stores have already taken note.

On West Main Street, Gordon Latter, owner of Kane Furniture, says the recent threat to his building from UVA's expansion plans has been settled.

"We worked things out with them so they're going to leave us alone for a while," he says, citing the university's decision to use an architect whose "pleasing" plans didn't include the Kane location.

Having dealt with that challenge, Latter says he's not worried about Bassett either.

"They carry a mixture of things that might compete more with Grand or Schewel," he explains. "It's not as much a concern to me because I have an eclectic mix that a lot of the chain stores don't have."

Grand store manager Mike Poole says he's not concerned. "I don't think it will have a direct effect on us because we don't carry Bassett furniture," says Poole, who believes competition is "a good thing."

Schewel manager Stacy Saul says he too is confident Bassett's arrival won't affect his store's bottom line.

"I don't think it's going to hurt our business any," says Saul, citing Schewel's decade in business on Route 29. He says his store's low payment plans and wide selection of manufacturers and models keep the store competitive. "We got it all," he boasts. And come March, Schewel will have even more. Saul says the 20,000-square-foot store will expand with a 10,000-square-foot addition.

Over at Gilmore, Hamm & Snyder in the Seminole Trail Shopping Center, Greg Hamm reacts to the news more moderately: he sees pros and cons.

"I think any retail has an impact because you cut the pie a little smaller," says Hamm. But the fact that Bassett will likely advertise in the local market, Hamm adds, is good for all furniture businesses in the area.

"It will make some people more aware of home furnishings," he says. The real competition for furniture businesses, Hamm argues, is not with other home furnishing stores; it's competition with any business selling luxury items. "Most people have only so many disposable dollars," to spend on items such as hot tubs, vacations, and cars, he says.

"Whether they buy a sofa from me, [Kane], or Bassett is one thing," says Hamm. "Do they decide they're going to buy a sofa at all?"

Gordon Latter, owner of Kane Furniture, says the recent threat to his building from UVA's expansion plans has been settled.